Main Library highlights lantern slide collection in fascinating new exhibit

In the early part of the 20th century the Library began collecting lantern slides, which were loaned to customers and used for Library programming, such as lectures. Highlights from this vast collection are on display at the Main Library in The World Illuminated: Highlights of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s Lantern Slide Collection exhibit Jan. 3–Feb. 28.

Long before photography's invention in 1839, lantern slides were painted images on glass projected with a magic lantern, often used for children's book illustrations. In 1849, the Langenheim brothers combined the two mediums into a patented process they called Hyalotype. This provided the first medium for photographs to be seen by larger audiences. Although the original intent for the photographic lantern slide was to create a profit by providing public entertainment, similar to movie theaters today, they also opened up photography as a tool for education and enjoyment.

The Library’s first collection of lantern slides was added in 1904 during a lecture series. Over the years, the Library has collected more than 62,000 slides, many of which are taken from the Better Housing League. Founded in 1916, the Better Housing League embodied the activism and political reform of the Progressive Era in Cincinnati. The slides depict the photographic documentation of the League's extensive housing surveys and provide an intimate view of the everyday lives, homes, and communities of some of Cincinnati’s most vulnerable citizens. Cincinnati had a number of significant lantern slide manufacturers, whose work is also represented in the collection. These include: Uranus Hord, L. M. Prince, L. B. Folger and the Huber Art Company.

In conjunction with the exhibit, a presentation about the lantern slides will be held 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, in the Huenefeld Tower Room at the Main Library. Featured speakers are Derek Scacchetti and Anne Delano Steinert. Scacchetti is a graphic designer working on creating a map/hike that corresponds to a selection of slides from the Better Housing League Collection. His presentation will be a sort of virtual trek using the slides. Steinert is a local historian who is currently working on creating the Over-the-Rhine Museum. Her presentation is a discussion of how these images led to the building of many of the suburb communities, including Greenhills and Winton Terrace.

The World Illuminated: Highlights of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s Lantern Slide Collection is on view at the Main Library, 800 Vine St., on the second floor connector bridge between the North and South buildings. This exhibit is free and open to the public. View slides from the exhibit in the Digital Library. For more information about this exhibit, visit or call 513-369-6900.